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How to Catch Rays Safely

You know how good it feels when you’re in a lawn chair or on the beach, soaking up the sun? Well, that’s not your imagination. Sunlight is known to boost your serotonin level, a neurotransmitter thought to play an important role in depression. The thing is, now that summer’s here for the northern hemisphere, health officials are already warning that spending too much time in the sun could give you cancer.

So, what should you do when those rays come calling?

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First, be aware that, yes, skin cancer is on the rise. But also know that more sunscreen is not the answer.

If you think you’re protecting your family and yourself by slathering on sunscreen, you may want to pay attention to a new study that shows you could be causing more harm than good by doing that. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, hazardous chemicals in sunscreens don’t remain atop your skin until you wash or sweat them off — rather, they soak into your system and will show up in your bloodstream just hours after you apply them.  

The FDA study highlights concerns about the safety and effects of chemical sunscreens on endocrine, reproductive, developmental and cancer-related outcomes, as well as environmental harm. The chemicals used in a majority of sunscreens are linked to infertility, birth defects and hormone disruption in children.

Because they eventually end up in waterways when beachgoers go for a swim, they destroy coral reefs and some sea life, as well. For precisely this reason, Hawaii lawmakers banned the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in 2018.

Worse, these chemicals also end up in waterways when they leach into the sewer system when you shower or bathe.

When it comes to your body, though, how much should you worry about how many of these chemicals leach inside you? Studies show a whopping 96 percent of Americans have oxybenzone in their bodies — and it’s been found in blood, urine and breast milk.

In addition to oxybenzone, octinoxate and similar endocrine-disrupting chemicals, the most toxic sunscreens also include synthetic fragrances and retinyl palmitate, which poses cancer concerns.

If this makes you feel like you’ll never be able to go out in the sun again, the good news is that sun avoidance is not the answer. Sensible sun exposure not only is important for vitamin D production and heart health, but it also may reduce your risk of certain kinds of cancer. The key word is “sensible.”

“Sensible” means getting just enough sun to turn slightly pink — about 20 minutes of UVB light from the sun over 40 percent of your body is all you need to produce Vitamin D. If you’re going to be in the sun for longer than 20 minutes, use precautions and safe sunscreen lotions, a list of which you can find on the Environmental Working Group’s website.

Then, when you are going to be in the sun for longer than 20 minutes, use those safe sunscreen sunscreens and protect yourself from sun damage with common sense by:

  • Staying in the shade during peak sun hours and getting out of the sun or donning some light clothing the moment your skin starts to turn light pink
  • Instead of a chemical sunscreen, use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide — the only two sunscreen ingredients deemed safe for human use by the FDA
  • Wear hats, sunglasses and proper clothing
  • Read the ingredients on those sunscreen bottles: Safer sunscreens for adults and children tend to use zinc- and titanium-based mineral ingredients, which block rays, but don’t penetrate your skin
  • Take the “internal sunscreen” astaxanthin, an antioxidant supplement that offers protection against radiation

So, grab your hat and sunglasses and catch some rays.

Sensibly, of course.

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